Sohonet brings Security and Simplicity to Remote Workflows
Halo had a heads up that something weird was happening at the turn of the year when filming on a nature documentary they were working on in China suddenly shut down.
“We knew it was serious since the producers were saying they didn’t know when they’d be able to film again,” says Halo Head of Operations James Cregeen. “We never guessed this was part of something that would impact the whole world.”
Halo provides world class creative talent, award winning post production services and state of the art facilities from online to audio mixing, spanning all genres of TV and feature film grade in the heart of London. Its clients include all the UK’s major broadcasters as well Disney+, NBCU, Warner Music and Netflix.
The facility was already using PCoIP technology internally and was aware of other tools that could help in the transition to remote workflows.
“ClearView Flex was a tool we’d been talking to Sohonet about for a while. Sohonet manages our firewall and VPN so when we started to roll out remote services we had this existing relationship and were familiar with their support team and setup.”
When lockdown was enforced, Halo had a number of offline projects ready for finishing. Cregeen says, “We were fortunate that when things ground to a halt, we had a lot of shows cut and locked and ready to go.”
With three central London buildings connected via Sohonet’s high capacity, low latency fibre Cregeen explains that it was fairly straightforward to relocate remotely.
“We’d already extended desktop control from our main hub at Noel Street to our other facilities via PCoIP so taking that remotely to someone’s home over VPN was not a massive jump and was quite quick to spin up.
“The main challenge was how to get a reference monitor with trustworthy full screen pictures and in-sync audio for artists working from home. That was where ClearView Flex came in.
“It’s something we had looked at repeatedly over the previous year and just not had the operational need to roll it out on a continuous basis. There was always the odd occasion where somebody was remote and couldn’t attend a session and it would have been useful in those circumstances. Covid was the real drive to bring it in.”
In-conjunction with the facility’s remote desktop and PCoIP solutions ClearView Flex has been used across various different parts of Halo’s finishing process including for flame artists, online editing, even for some audio reviews where CVF was the main stereo output.
“It has worked really well,” Cregeen says. “It has integrated really well into our video matrix. You just give it a position on the matrix and can route any SDI signal into it; you just need to send out links to the session and away you go.”
ClearView had proved particularly useful for final post attended review sessions and signing off on credits sequences.
“The limitation on the colour side, which was originally an 8-bit stream, has been addressed,” Cregeen says. “The upgrade to a 10-bit service massively opens up the use of ClearView Flex in other parts of the business.
He continues, “In the review process, it’s vital that everyone trusts that they are seeing the same great quality pictures at the same time. The alternative is to send out a QuickTime for everybody to watch offline and feedback notes. That’s nowhere near the same experience as having an over the shoulder remote session facilitated by ClearView.”
Halo’s online editors and flame artists are able to work at home with Teradici as their PCoIP monitor and an Apple TV plugged into a HD screen streaming their output from ClearView.
“We’re effectively using it to create the full three monitor setup you’d have in a suite. The artist can dial in their respective clients whenever they get to the sign off stage.”
Another deciding factor for Halo was that ClearView Flex satisfied all security concerns. “Working remotely has brought everyone’s minds back to security and knowing the tools you use are certified makes a big difference,” he says.
As Covid shows no sign of relenting, the industry has to get used to remote as the new normal. Halo expects to continue in a hybrid set up for the foreseeable future where remote is part of every workflow in some form.
“It’s a constantly changing picture,” he reports. “The lead time on being requested to spin up a remote solution to a particular part of the post process is less than 24 hours—and we need to react. Clients are rightly concerned whether they should or should not travel, whether their team should be working together in the same room or remotely. We’ve got to have all these tools to be able to offer whatever solution is needed.”
Over the last six months, Halo’s technical operations staff have launched a new portal to give clients more involvement in the data management of their assets. Tools like this and ClearView Flex have made certain projects possible.
“If we’d not done these things key jobs just couldn’t have happened,” Cregeen says. “The hardest thing for everyone is having this mixed world in which everybody is remote or everybody is locally in the office. You have to gear up to support problems and capacity in equal measure not knowing from one week to the next what the ratio will be of remote to local working. That’s tough from a planning perspective.
“For our team, it’s about having enough resources and tools to meet every possible permutation and choosing the right ones to sensibly invest in.”
Arguably, the changing nature of post has been hardest on production company clients. Without a de-facto standard of performing a remote edit, clients are moving from one facility to the next not knowing what the new remote working setup will be.
“It is vastly different from going from one Avid house to another where for the most part the technology is the same. As a result, we’ve ramped up our call centre and operate it as a support desk for clients to help guide their project.
“In this regard, one of the benefits of ClearView Flex is just how simple it is. You get an email link and put in the PIN, or open the app on Apple TV and away you go. It’s all very straightforward for the end user. At the moment when everybody is swapping from one place to the next with confusion about what software they are expected to use, the simplicity of ClearView is key.”
As and when normal working practices resume, Halo is keen to retain the benefits to working from home.
“Everybody is quite desperate to get back to the office to an extent, but we have found a lot of productivity benefits by just giving people the ability and flexibility to securely access media remotely and do things when they can and when they want to,” Cregeen says. “People want to hang on to the benefits of remote working. We all enjoy what we do and having access to systems and tools 24/7 is something we should be grateful for.”